Robin Roberts: HR Record Breaker
September 3, 1966
“Whenever I threw a home-run ball, and Lord knows I threw plenty of them, I usually knew as soon as I saw that full swing what I had done wrong … That’s why I was never upset by a home run, because I knew immediately what had happened and was able to correct it.” — Robin Roberts
In this era of inflated home run totals, it may comfort pitchers around the majors that the most homered-upon pitcher in baseball history is enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Robin Roberts, who was inducted into the Hall in 1976, gave up the 505th — and last — home run of his illustrious career to the Pirates’ Willie Stargell 39 years ago today.
Few pitchers have enjoyed the success Roberts did in his 19 years on the mound, but none have seen as many of their pitches land behind the outfield wall. But to be sure, not many pitchers took the mound as often as the ace of Philadelphia’s “Whiz Kids”.
Roberts led the league in innings pitched and starts each season from 1951 through 1955. And although he gave up over 20 homers in each of those seasons (leading the league with 35 and a then-record 41 allowed in ’54 and ’55, respectively) he never won fewer than twenty games during that glorious half-decade and led the league in victories four times.
“Almost all of the homers he gave up came when we were way ahead. He’d get careless,” remembered Andy Seminick, Roberts’ catcher on the Phil’s memorable pennant-winners in 1950. Maybe he was trying to save himself and didn’t exert himself.
That carelessness cost him in 1956, when he won 19 games but gave up an unprecedented 46 homers. The egregious total would stand as a major-league record until Minnesota’s Bert Blyleven surrendered 50 in 1986.
It’s amazing that a man considered to be one of the greatest pitchers of his generation gave up at least thirty homers in a season nine times and led the league in home runs allowed five times. Yet Roberts’ lifetime ERA stands at 3.90 and by the time he had finished out his career with the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs in 1966 (Stargell’s home run was one of 15 allowed that season) he had won 286 games. (For the record, Roberts himself hit just five homers in 1,525 at-bats.)
Roberts surrendered 87 round-trippers in 3 1/2 with the Baltimore Orioles, so he does not hold the National League record for home runs allowed. That record (434) belongs to fellow Hall of Famer Warren Spahn.